Guest Posting: Racism Reflections

               When my young guest Musing
author told me this story a few months ago, I knew that I wanted you to hear
it. I appreciate her writing it down and letting me share it, with her
additional conclusion based on the George Zimmerman trial.

I have always considered myself an
open-minded person. While the majority of my friends are Jewish girls like me
(whom else do you meet in Jewish single-gender schools?), I do have friends of
all different shapes, sizes, religions and colors. Race has always been a kind
of non-issue; meaning that I grew up learning to treat others as I would want
to be treated regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or any
other superficialities. My basic outlook is that every person in the world
should be treated as a decent human being created in the image of God, until
proven otherwise. This worldview was working out pretty well for me until the
winter of 2012.

 It turned out that my college was only offering
a class I needed at a time that did not work out for me. My professors
recommended trying to find the same class at local colleges in the area. Easier
said than done. The only college offering this class was a school I had never
heard of, a two and a half hour trip away from my house. While the commute was
less than desirable, I figured that it was a necessary evil and it would be the
only hiccup in what would otherwise be a smooth semester. I was wrong.

My first inkling that my plan was
not going to work out as intended occurred when I arrived at the subway station
near the school to register for my class. Upon stepping off the train, one of
the many police officers milling about the station immediately approached me. He
wanted to know if I was lost. I was a little taken aback by his question as I
pride myself on my subway navigation skills. After looking around the station,
I realized his question probably stemmed from the fact that I was the only non-
dark-skinned person in the station. I quickly assured him that this was my intended
stop. I felt that he was being a little biased towards people of his own race
by assuming that I wouldn’t want to get off in a neighborhood where people were
not the same color as me. I am not naïve, and it was very apparent that this
was not the greatest or safest of neighborhoods, but I had to get to this
school one way or another.  Off I went.  

Upon stepping in the doors of the school,
I felt all eyes on me, and not in a good way. The first words out of the
admission director’s mouth were, “What are you doing here?” I figured that
someone just needed a little customer service training and so I explained that
I needed a course that was only offered at this school. She proceeded to mutter
under her breath about me taking up a seat that did not belong to me. This bureaucrat
seemed to believe that this taxpayer-funded school was for the benefit of black
people only and being white, I was trying to take something I didn’t deserve.

Every administrator I encountered
gave me a hard time. I found myself being sent to different buildings only to
find out I had started out in the correct building. I was sent to incorrect
rooms and when I finally did arrive at where I needed to be, I was blatantly
ignored if someone who was the “right” color needed help. In one instance, I
waited in a long line to sign up for my specific class. When it came to my
turn, the woman behind the desk called forward the people behind me and told me
to take a seat until she had time to, “deal with me.” It was the most bizarre
day of my life. Throughout it all, I really could not figure out why I was
being treated this way.  It was only
after continuing to encounter this behavior from the administration throughout
the semester, that I acknowledged that I was the victim of a bullying racism. I
came to realize that this school, named after a leader of the civil rights
movement, was a school with a massive chip on its shoulder. It felt like some
of the people thought that here was their chance to make up for any racism they,
their parents and/or grandparents had ever experienced. I was being treated a
certain way only because of the color of my skin.

When the first day of class arrived,
I had already steeled myself for dealing with my classmates. Whereas prior to
my registration experience I would not have thought twice about the color of
new classmates’ skin, now I was dreading being in a class with people who I was
sure were going to act a certain way. To my delight, my classmates didn’t seem
to care that I was white. We instantly bonded over the difficulty of the class
and the insane amounts of homework. Four girls with whom I formed a study club
insisted on walking me to the subway every day so that I wouldn’t be hassled on
the streets. Over a year later, we are still in touch.

 However, it seemed that anyone with even a
tiny bit of power in the school felt it necessary to lord it over me.  The first time I raised my hand in class I was
called on (by the decidedly incompetent instructor) as, “white girl.” I was so
surprised I actually forgot what I was going to say. When questions were asked
in class and I raised my hand, I was told, “White girl thinks she has all the

I have been reminiscing about this
experience in light of the recent George Zimmerman verdict. In my experience at
this college, there were definitely people whose behavior was lacking. Pretty
much every administrator I encountered as well as my professor acted in a
judgmental and bigoted manner that could only further promote racism and
division between people.

Luckily, I was taught never to judge
many by the actions of the few. I had my wonderful classmates who stood up for
me to our professor and even apologized to me for his behavior. There is bad
behavior all along the color spectrum, and after this recent court case, I know
there are negative feelings flying back and forth. However, I believe that people
should not allow their thoughts about the particulars of the case to affect the
way they look at an entire race. Whether you believe that Trayvon was a thug
and Zimmerman a hero, or Trayvon an innocent boy and Zimmerman a bully, it does
not need to affect the way you behave or feel about an entire group of people.
I haven’t changed my outlook about race because of my bad experience. It just
further strengthened my belief that there are bad eggs in every bunch, but that
groups as a whole should not be treated or thought of negatively because of the
actions of some within their group. Turns out that winter semester held some
important lessons that had nothing to do with the advertised subject.

5 thoughts on “Guest Posting: Racism Reflections”

  1. This is an Excellent Post. I am an african american and I was raised in a christian home where everyone was supposed to be treated equal all but the white race. Bad and good people are in all races and you cannot say a red apple is better than a green one, their both apples, one may be sweeter, or look better but its still and apple.

  2. I was raised in the Deep South during segregation and the civil rights struggle. I was also raised by two lovely Black women. My mother was chronically ill so these women fed me, helped me dress, and kept me company in the afternoons when I was alone. I loved these women for their loving kindness to me and that has been the foundation of my attitude toward race relations of any kind. I am again in school and have many classmates of different colors and cultures. I love them all for their differences and similarities to me. This young woman experienced reverse discrimination. I think what gets me in this country is that the pundits think that racism, discrimination, and cultural bias only goes one direction, white to (fill in the blank).
    In my psychology classes, I have read about “white privilege.” It does exist in that white people rarely think about being “profiled” for the color of their skin as some other races are. However, what this young woman says is absolutely correct; we should not judge a race completely by some of its bad apples. I believe that the Zimmerman case was unfortunately two people in the wrong place at the wrong time. No one has bothered to consider that Martin bears some of the responsibility in the outcome of the incident. To many he is a child; that is a comfortable stance for them to take. However, if he had killed Mr. Zimmerman, in all probability he would have been tried as an adult. Mr. Martin was a short time away from being a legal adult in Florida (18). If both men had not had their cultural biases perhaps there would have been a different outcome. Mr. Zimmerman showed his love for people the other night when he helped rescue a family from an overturned SUV. He was in hiding for his life, he didn’t have to do it, but he helped anyway. Many people on television will not even give him the credit he deserves for this because of the shooting.
    There is a concerted effort in this country not to mend the wounds of slavery. I find that interesting in the light that we never see Japanese Americans rioting for the injustices of their internment in POW camps during WWII. It is in the best interest of the so called leaders of Black America to keep the race baiting going because if it ever ended, they would immediately become irrelevant. This young woman’s picture of her relationship with her classmates is the way we should all be with each other; but the “powers that be” in the school hierarchy had an agenda similar to the hierarchy in the Black Community. It is so sad that people like Dr. Alveda King (niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Ben Carson, and Dr. Bill Cosby are shouted down when they try to express the truth that is trying to drive Black America to civil unrest again. As individuals we need to make a difference where we are. This young woman’s classmates showed that they were not willing to buy into the same old racism.

  3. To the “Guest” writer of Susan’s Musings.
    Young lady, you are wise beyond your years. My congratulations to your parents. Please thank them for me. As long as there is breath in this world within individuals such as yourself there is hope that one day we will all learn to get along with one another.

  4. Dear Rabbi, thanks for the brilliant lesson on balancing the physical and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly dimensions. Practically speaking, I don’t feel so bad being the kind of fool who learns things only by doing them. For thus we keep our feet upon solid ground. This is better than hovering a few centimeters above the earth.
    Dear Ms. Susan, Trayvon’s mentor (mentress?) disclosed in interview how she counseled Trayvon per portable phone to run from the “creepy-*ss crackah” following him, because she feared Zimmerman was perhaps a sexual predator. The lad obviously listened to her, jumped to conclusion and reacted with provocation minus consideration, but the resulting physical confrontation was not founded in race, and had nothing whatsoever to do with race.
    The Great Race Divide will always shadow us as long as there are those benighted agitators who profit from casting their minorities as eternal victims. At the turn of the last century George Washington Carver noticed the same lamentable phenomenon, of black ‘spiritual leaders’ who seem intent on sucking escaping slaves back into the mire of the plantation. At every stroke that tears the wall down, there are those who will devote their last breath to re-erect it. Remember the “Rainbow Coalition?” Well I recall a late 1970’s cartoon depicting a certain Civil Rights leader painting his rainbow with seven colours: black, black, black, black, black, black and black. This miscreant is still around, stirring his witch’s cauldron of bitterness.
    Bigotry and racism are not the sole province of the ‘whites,’ but come in all colours.

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